The San Diego Padres may not be operating on all cylinders, but the team keeps finding ways to win. Back home after a long road trip that took the team to Atlanta, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, rookie Jose Azocar delivered the winning hit against the Milwaukee Brewers with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Manager Bob Melvin considered pinch-hitting for Azocar but instead gave him a chance, saying, “His first at-bat had a lot to do with getting that second at-bat.” Azocar, who is valued more for his glove than his bat, spent nine long years in the minor leagues before being called up. He responded to the trust Melvin has in the team and in every single player on the roster.
So far this season, the entire battery, with the exception of Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer, have not gotten in a groove. Machado has continued his hot streak, but Hosmer has come back to earth. However, San Diego’s pitching and defense has helped make up for the paltry offense.
The Padres played error-free baseball until April 24th in a 10-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers — the longest streak of its kind in the major leagues since 1901. Ironically, Ha-Seong Kim, who has made the highlight reels repeatedly for his sure-handed acrobatic plays, made that first error.
Currently, the Padres have committed the fewest errors of any Major League Baseball team, with 0.33 errors per game. Their division rivals rank 12th at 0.49 (San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers), 28th 0.78 (Colorado Rockies), and 29th 0.80 (Arizona Diamondbacks).
Padres players, including Jake Cronenworth, have praised the staff, especially Matt Williams, for defensive positioning –“You can have a group of elite defenders, but if they’re not positioned correctly, they won’t be as effective.” Williams has told reporters he makes decisions, “Using the data and using the analytics and also watching and trying to feel what might happen.”
Machado and Hosmer carried the team through the first month, and Machado currently leads the team with a .368 average and 1,024 OPS+. Hosmer’s hot streak has cooled down, but he’s batting over .300 at .327. However, his .852 OPS+ falls well below the expectation of 100. As a team, Padres hitters have an average of BA of .233 and OPS+ of 673.
Slowly many of their fellow hitters have crept above the Mendoza line (.200): Azocar .250, Wil Myers .241, Jorge Alfaro .236, Kim .220, Austin Nola .216, Jurickson Profar .210, and Cronenworth .200. Named for Mario Mendoza, who batted below.200 in five of his nine seasons in the big leagues, the number represents a minimal threshold. Every other batter on the team remains below that minimal line.
Still, this team keeps winning. For the first time since 2016 and before that 2010, San Diego swept a three-game series against their division rival Giants. The team won a total of seven of nine games on the recent road trip. Earlier in the season, the Padres swept the Cincinnati Reds in both a home and road series, the team’s first series sweep since 2010, when the Padres went 7-0 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Obviously A. J. Preller (the Padres general manager and team president) has learned the hard way that a team can never have enough starting pitching. Injuries and inefficiency, especially the struggles of Ryan Weathers (4-7 5.32) and Dinelson Lamet (0-1 9.72 ERA), led him to acquire Jake Arrieta (10.95 ERA), Reiss Knehr (1-2 4.97), and Vincent Velasquez (0-3, 8.53) in mid-season last year.
This year Preller made sure the Padres began the season loaded with effective starting pitchers, including Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger, Sean Manaea, and Nick Martinez. Already Snell and Clevinger (who has had two Tommy John surgeries) have spent time on the injured list.
Fortunately, rookie MacKenzie Gore has stepped up both as a reliever and a starter. So far, the 23-year-old has pitched 35 innings, with a 3-1 record, 2.06 ERA, and 1.143 WHIP. A celebrated prospect, in 2021, Gore had slipped to 55 in the rankings of starting pitchers. If he continues to show he belongs with the big club, the Padres’ major concern will be the number of innings he pitches over the course of the season.
Joe Musgrove (the owner of the first no-hitter in Padres’ history) has won all five games so far with an ERA of 1.90 and WHIP of 0.94. Yu Darvish has a record of 4-1, ERA of 3.91 and 1.130 WHIP. Sean Manaea has a record 2-3 4.04 era 1.122 WHIP, but his history in Oakland 52-44 3.87 ERA 1.198 WHIP indicates he has the talent to improve. Nick Martinez comes in at 2-2. 3.66 ERA 1.361 Whip. In his last start, a 3-2 win against the Milwaukee Brewers, who lead the National League Central, Martinez sacrificed for the team throwing 106 pitches, just 69 for strikes over just five innings.
Unlike earlier Preller teams, this version of the Padres plays as a unit. Much of the credit for that unity goes to Melvin and his staff. Melvin’s intuition led to Azocar’s winning hit. After the game, he emphasized that “we don’t beat ourselves, and we put ourselves in pretty good position.”
This year’s manager, coaching staff, and group of players continue to find ways to win, even without Fernando Tatis Jr. His return sometime this summer should give the San Diego Padres a huge offensive boost.